|David Porter, one of the Navy's finest officers, befriended
the Farragut family through an unusual chain of events in
which the Farraguts rescued Porter's unconscious father
from the deck of a drifting boat. When the elder Porter
passes away, David was grateful to the family for taking
care of his father and offered to take young James and train
him as a naval officer. At the time it was not uncommon
for parents to place a child with someone who could train
them in a career. Hence, James Glasgow Farragut came under
the guardianship of David Porter and changed his name to
David G. Farragut.
his adopted father to the sea at the tender ago of eight and received his first naval
appointment as midshipman at large at the age of nine and a half. At age eleven he saw his
first combat and even commanded a vessel at age twelve! The young sailor had seen a lot
during his four years at sea, but his greatest achievement was yet to come.
"I am to have a Flag in the Gulf, and the rest depends on me."
Fifty years later at the outbreak of the Civil War, David Farragut had a difficult
decision to make. He was born in Tennessee, raised in Louisiana, and lived in Virginia,
yet he felt more devoted to the country he had served for more than five decades. He
decided to join the Union and moved his family north. In January 1862, Farragut was named
Flag Officer in command of the West Gulf Blockading Squadron with instructions to enter
the Mississippi and capture New Orleans. He was placed in command of eighteen wooden
vessels including his flagship HARTFORD, a fleet of mortar boats, and 700 men.
To the objection of his stepbrother David Dixon Porter,
who was in charge of the mortar boat flotilla, Flag Officer
Farragut made the decision to run past Forts Jackson and
St. Philip to take the city of New Orleans. To prepare
the ships to run past the forts, the crews crisscrossed
the hulls with great chains until they were almost as
well protected as the ironclads. Further, since he planned
to pass the forts at night, Farragut had the hulls covered
with mud from the Mississippi to make them less visible
from the shore and had the decks painted white so that
needed objects would stand out clearly. He even had tall
trees lashed to the masts of his vessels so that the enemy
would think they were trees on the opposite bank!
Farragut's strategy worked. The commander described the intense passage: "The
smoke was so dense that it was only now and then we could see anything but the flash of
the cannon ... The passing of Forts Jackson and St. Philip was one of the most awful
sights I ever saw." His own vessel, the HARTFORD, was disabled when a raft set
afire rammed the flagship and flames damaged the masts and rigging. Nevertheless, the
fleet safely reached New Orleans and took possession of the city on April 28, 1862.
"I mean to be whipped or to whip my enemy, and not be scared to death"
In May of 1862, Farragut attempted to subdue the city of Vicksburg, located about 400
river miles above New Orleans but his bombardment was unsuccessful. He did not have enough
guns in his fleet to overwhelm the city. Plus, Vicksburg's 200-foot river bluffs were so
high that many of his guns could not get sufficient elevation to hit the Confederate
defenses. Fearing the receding waters of the Mississippi might strand his oceangoing
warships in the summer months, Farragut reluctantly decided to withdraw from the river
city. He left six gunboats below Vicksburg and returned to New Orleans.
Upon his return to the Crescent City, Farragut began organizing a second, stronger
expedition against the "Gibraltar of the West." His fleet arrived below the
Vicksburg bluffs once again on June 25, 1862 and began preparations for a second
bombardment. Farragut then received news that Charles H. Davis, commander of the Western
Flotilla, had finally captured Fort Pillow and Memphis and was now only 20 miles north of
Vicksburg. Consequently, Farragut decided to run his fleet north past Vicksburg, just as
he had done at Forts Jackson and St. Philip, and rendezvous with Davis.
At the appointed hour of 0200 on June 28, 1862, Farragut
raised two red lanterns on the mast of the HARTFORD as
a signal for the fleet to proceed. The ships were spotted
at 0400 and Vicksburg's 29 heavy guns were answered by
the guns of Farragut's fleet. All of Farragut's ships
but three made it through and none were sunk; however,
some were badly hit, including the HARTFORD. The captain's
cabin was blown apart by a shell just seconds after Farragut
had moved to another part of the ship!
Although running the batteries was a gallant act, Farrgut's juncture with Davis did
little to bring about the subjugation of Vicksburg. It was clear a combined naval and land
attack would be necessary to subdue the "Gibralter of the West."
Before Farragut withdrew his fleet from Vicksburg a second
time, he had an encounter with the Confederate ironclad
ARKANSAS. Launched at Yazoo City and commanded by Isaac
Brown, the ARKANSAS bravely plunged into the midst of
the thirty-eight Union warships anchored above Vicksburg
in mid-July 1862. Brown's attack was aided by an element
of surprise, and the fact there were so many Union ships
they had very little room in which to maneuver. As a result,
Farragut's warships were only able to bring a few guns
to bear at a time against the formidable ironclad. During
the fighting, the ARKANSAS caused serious damage to the
HARTFORD and Farragut was furious that a makeshift enemy
ironclad had steamed right through his fleet. He had enough
of the pesky ironclad. Fearing once again his vessels
would be stranded due to dropping river levels, Farragut
decided to withdraw from Vicksburg and sailed south. The
withdrawal of the Union fleet from Vicksburg in July of
1862 closed the first phase of Union naval operations
against the city.
"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
Two years later In 1864, Rear Admiral Farragut was summoned
from his Now York home to serve his country once more
in leading an attack on Mobile Bay, the last Confederate
stronghold in the Gulf of Mexico. Mobile Bay was not only
protected by Fort Morgan and a fleet of wooden vessels,
but also by the formidable Confederate Ram TENNESSEE and
a field of explosive mines called torpedoes. Undaunted,
Farragut readied his fleet for battle. Using a strategy
that had worked before, he ordered his wooden ships lashed
together in pairs, one large and one small. In this manner,
if the larger frigate was disabled in battle, the smaller
vessel could tow it into safety.
Farragut's fleet of wooden ships, along with four small ironclad monitors, began the
attack on Mobile Bay early in the morning of August 5, 1864. When the smoke of battle
became so thick that he couldn't see, Farragut climbed the rigging of the HARTFORD and
lashed himself near the top of the mainsail to get a better view. It wasn't long before
the TECUMSEH, one of the monitors leading the way, struck a torpedo and sank in a matter
minutes. In a state of confusion, the fleet came to a halt in front of the powerful guns
of Fort Morgan. Realizing the fleet was reluctant to move forward due to the
"infernal machines," Rear Admiral Farragut rallied his men to victory, shouting:
"Damn the torpedoes! Full speed ahead!"
The Union fleet steamed ahead through the minefield, blasted Fort Morgan, and captured
the Confederate ironclad TENNESSEE. Thus, Mobile Bay fell into Union hands in one of the
most decisive naval victories of the Civil War.
The Battle of Mobile Bay would be Farragut's last. Overcome with fatigue he returned to
New York in December 1864 a national hero. In 1866, Farragut became the first person in
the history of the United States Navy to be awarded the rank of Admiral. Two years later
In 1868, he was even asked run for the office of President of the United States, but
replied, "I hasten to assure you that I have never for one moment entertained the
idea of political life." Farragut would have only two years to live. The first
Admiral of the Navy died on August 14, 1870 it the age of 69. His funeral procession in
New York City included 10,000 soldiers and sailors and was headed by President Ulysses S.
Grant. A statue of Admiral Farragut was erected in the heart of our nation's capital known
as Farragut Square. It remains a lasting tribute to the most distinguished naval officer
of the Civil War.